Movie Review ~ tick, tick…BOOM!

1

The Facts:

Synopsis: On the cusp of his 30th birthday, a promising young theater composer navigates love, friendship, and the pressures to create something great before time runs out.

Stars: Andrew Garfield, Alexandra Shipp, Robin de Jesús, Vanessa Hudgens, Joshua Henry, Bradley Whitford, MJ Rodriguez, Richard Kind, Judith Light, Ben Ross

Director: Lin-Manuel Miranda

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 115 minutes

TMMM Score: (10/10)

Review:  As a life-long RENThead and a true RENT-aholic*, I was already quite familiar with the 2001 off-Broadway production of Jonathan Larson’s tick, tick…BOOM! before it was made into a Netflix movie by musical theater Swiss Army Man Lin-Manuel Miranda.  I was also aware that Miranda had starred in a smaller concert version of the show which seemed like a natural fit for him.  Miranda, the multiple award-winning composer/lyricist behind In the Heights and the behemoth known as Hamilton was greatly influenced by RENT’s late composer, and the two have lead strikingly similar career paths.  It’s not hard to see how Larson might have had the same type of trajectory as Miranda has rightfully enjoyed had he not passed away so tragically at age 35. 

I had reached a bit of a Miranda saturation point when this film was announced and if I’m being really real with you (like, really really real), tick, tick…BOOM!! always felt like a minor cash-in on RENT’s juggernaut rocket ship took off.  What started as a solo show by Larson was adapted into a one-act play that was a small success off-Broadway but nothing on the scale that RENT had.  It went on to do quite well regionally but it served more to show that Larson was a good songwriter from the start…but that even good songwriters wrote some clunkers at the beginning as well.  The impending arrival of the movie didn’t set off any major bells or whistles to me because it wasn’t one I felt strongly about either way.

So, take it from that perspective as I write that in the days since I’ve seen tick, tick…BOOM! I’ve been unable to get it out of my head, and not just the music.  The performances given by the cast Miranda has assembled and what the director has brought to the screen surpasses anything that had been put onstage before.  Screenwriter Steven Levenson bounces back from the disastrously bad adaptation of Dear Evan Hanson with a positively inspired take on how to further mold what was once a one-man show.  Miranda takes all of these elements and then puts a Broadway polish on it all, the cherry on the top of what is already a musical theater fan’s starry-eyed dream come true.

While the 2001 stage version wasn’t as direct, the movie layers the real-life story of Larson’s life as a struggling artist over the existing script and it amazingly works.  I wasn’t sure at first how much I wanted to see Larson’s life essentially made into a musical, an existing musical even, but everyone involved treats it with such respect, grace, and dignity that it doesn’t come off as either too serious or overly sentimental.  This is sincere moviemaking through and through and if it had leaned in either direction too far it would have collapsed in on itself.  Levenson’s screenplay is sturdy enough to hold together.

The glue, or cement rather, that solidifies it though is Andrew Garfield’s mesmerizing performance as Jonathan in what is without a doubt career-best work for the actor.  Put aside the fantastic dramatics he brings to the more emotional side of the character but from all the documentaries, books, film clips, etc. I’ve seen over the years in conjunction with RENT, Garfield (The Amazing Spider-Man) has Larson the person down to an eerie “T”.  He looks like the composer and easily conveys the charm everyone that knew him always speaks of.  And when he’s not speaking, his singing is first rate.  All the singing in the film is soaring and, in another extremely smart move, Miranda switches between Garfield as Larson performing the show with an onstage cast (including Bad Boys for Life’s Vanessa Hudgens and Broadway powerhouse leading man Joshua Henry, Winter’s Tale) and what are often their “real-life” (movie-wise) counterparts, Alexandra Shipp (Love, Simon) as girlfriend Susan and Robin de Jesus (The Boys in the Band) as Michael.

Much of the film (and the play) is leading to Larson’s composition of “the song”, a powerhouse ballad he’s been trying to create for his new show.  Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim (played by The Cabin in the Woods’s Bradley Whitford sometimes and the real man himself on voicemails) encouraged Larson to keep writing and, if you believe the musical, it’s his advice that kept him searching for this major movie moment.  It’s very much worth waiting for and what existed onstage as a satisfying 11 o’clock number for an actress turns into something far more surprising here.  Then there’s even more movie to come.  I won’t spoil it but Miranda and company continue to blur the lines between what is the solo show, the musical, and the movie musical in clever ways throughout. 

Sure, the musical retains at least one of the songs that fails pretty spectacularly (mostly because it sounds achingly like the title song from RENT) but then again you have to remember this was written first.  Of all the movie musicals that have been released lately, this might be my absolute favorite in terms of overall success in transition from stage to screen.  It’s hard to expand these worlds and while In the Heights worked wonders with its transition, what Levenson and Miranda have accomplished here with tick, tick…BOOM! is sort of amazing.  The show now lives on in another completely new form separate from the original creation by Larson and the updated version reconstituted after his Pulitzer Prize winning musical became a revolutionary touchstone.  I would never be so bold as to make a statement like “Jonathan Larson would have loved this.” but I can say that as someone that was so moved (and changed) by the work that Larson has put forth and a fan of his for decades, this was a monumental undertaking with an exceptional execution.  Do not miss this one.

*What’s the difference between a RENThead and a RENT-aholic?  Well, RENTheads are fans of the show that have seen it more than five times and have won the lottery to sit in the front two rows at least once.  RENT-aholics have traveled across more than two state lines to see the show from any vantage point…and yes, I’m certified as both…and not just in NYC!

Movie Review ~ Ghostbusters: Afterlife

1

The Facts:

Synopsis: When a single mom and her two kids arrive in a small town, they begin to discover their connection to the original Ghostbusters and the secret legacy their grandfather left behind.

Stars: Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, Sigourney Weaver, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts

Director: Jason Reitman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 124 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review:  This is a public service announcement to all major Hollywood studios (and any independent ones with franchise opportunities) that are tossing around ideas of rebooting or relaunching their most valuable properties.  There are a million ways you can go wrong in resurrecting what has made you a boatload of cash in the past and will continue to bring in money moving forward as you churn out repackaged Blu-rays, coffee mugs, and ugly sweaters.  Don’t go cheap, instead why not think big, shoot for the moon, great creative, spend the cash, take the time.  Fans will wait for the product if the product is quality.  It’s late as I’m writing this and reading over these last sentences, I’m not sure if I’m writing a review for Ghostbusters: Afterlife or giving a pep talk to an ad agency that just lost a big client.  No, I’m definitely writing a review for this long in the works and much called for sequel, which was delayed over a year due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

I feel as if I need to give this announcement to Tinsel Town (since all the big execs are reading this, naturally) because Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a prime example of why waiting to get the right group of people together and aiming for perfect instead of “acceptable” is how the best sequels are made.  I can’t even begin to describe how pleasing this film is and not just on the low-bar scale of fan service.  Fan service is often the easiest box to to check of all so critics that ding a film for “paying fan service” aren’t really giving an adequate critique of the film.  No, this is a movie that not only understands its audience but cares about them as well.  It knows how long they’ve waited, suspects they may be bringing their own children to the movie, and provides an entertainment package that work fantastically for the generation that grew up with one set of Ghostbusters while paving the way for the next generation to get their own heaping dose of kicks from the festivities.

Does it help having some knowledge of the first two movies (the original in 1984 and the divisive sequel in 1989 being the reference points, the female-led reboot in 2016 isn’t acknowledged as far as I could tell) going in?  Sorta, but only because you’ll pick up more of the small tips of the proton packs director Jason Reitman (son of original director Ivan) makes to what his dad crafted before.  It’s more or less a continuation from the second film which picks up today in a small town in Oklahoma where Egon Spengler retreated to after the Ghostbusters disbanded, abandoning his young daughter in the process. Living life as a recluse before recently dying (original star Harold Ramis passed away in 2014), his now grown daughter (Carrie Coon, Gone Girl) is a single mom to Phoebe (McKenna Grace, I, Tonya) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard, The Goldfinch) and needs a place to stay after being evicted.  Her dad’s ramshackle house in the middle of nowhere will have to do. Working through the hard feelings she has will have to wait a bit.

Ah, but Spengler picked this town and this house for a reason, as we’ll come to see.  First, we’ll learn a bit more about the town from Phoebe’s summer school science teacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd, This is 40) and Podcast (Logan Kim, a star in the making) her lab partner and, soon, her partner in crime.  Seems the town is known for its strange earthquakes even though it isn’t anywhere near a fault line or any other natural developments which would normally cause them.  Then there’s the abandoned mine which has seemed to have some activity lately.  Oh, and who can forget all the fun discoveries Phoebe finds around the house when the inquisitive girl who has trouble fitting in starts to poke around with a ghostly helping hand.

Uh-oh…I think I’ll stop there because I wouldn’t want to get ahead of myself or let you in on what Reitman and screenwriter Gil Kenan have cooked up for the remainder of the film’s exciting second half.  The thrills and adventure only rises as the stakes grow, resulting in a movie-going experience that works as a sort of fountain-of-youth-filmgoing.  I went in as an adult but left feeling fifteen years younger.  It’s that fun of a watch and while it does have the allure of a summer blockbuster, its spooky tone fits right into its late fall/Thanksgiving release slate. 

Led by a solid cast of young talent and given great support by its adult cast who ace the fast-talking dialogue in Reitman/Kenan’s finely tuned script, Ghostbusters: Afterlife is the sequel fans have been waiting (dreaming?) for.  This isn’t a quickie get rich quick project or a recycled brain-dead treatment.  Reitman (Labor Day) grew up on the sets of these films so it’s no surprise he has spoken of how personal these films are to him.  It shows in nearly every frame on screen and continues to the very end of the movie which has one of the longer post-credit scenes I’ve seen in a while.  The movie won’t be complete if you don’t stay until that absolute final credit is through. I suspect by the time the movie is over, you won’t need any prodding to stay through the credits.